Rose Oser & Weston Scott’s Raw Lyrics Astound
by Evelyn Arevalo
“Tinderella” weaves more than a typical romance into its tapestry. Our modern princess is looking for more, as she discovers strange and wonderful suitors. And she makes a serious discovery of what it takes to start living your best life, in Custom Made Theatre’s co-production with Faultline Theater.
Writer Rose Oser, lyricist Weston Scott, and composer Christian B. Schmidt tackle race, sexual identity and the superficiality of social media in “Tinderella.” We discover that all is not as it seems—as the lyrics reveal.
Picture this: Dylan, a Queer, Black, impeccably made-up, and perfectly coiffed Fairy God-Roomate shows up. Add a clueless prince, and a Plain Jane princess. Set in bustling Oakland, they explode into “Tinderella: The Modern Musical.” This daring musical explores the pitfalls of dating via Tinder, and the competition for dudes turns into self-discovery. The pop inspired score sets the tone, with heartfelt ballads on identity and rejection.
Set in 2013, one year into Tinder, director Ken Savage immerses us in the busy streets around Lake Merritt. Ditzy Meg (animated Juliana Lustenader) escapes her sheltered life in Marin County. But she is working at a dead-end waitressing gig, stuck in stagnant hopes.
Enigmatic Dylan steals the show (versatile, musical Branden Noel Thomas) in skin tight leggings, stiletto nails, and makeup to die for. Hilarious Dylan’s vocal range dazzles us as much as their makeup. Couchsurfing Dylan becomes Meg’s own Fabulous Fairy Roomie. And Dylan convinces Meg to hop on Tinder to find “The One.”
On Tinder, Meg is assaulted by a cascade of disturbing and dubious profiles, along with lots of dick pics. In “Old School Chivalry,” three dudes from Tinder sing about the etiquette behind the pics. The boys snap their own photos, and then climax by building a phallus shaped human tower.
Meg and Dylan fuel their powerful friendship with late night quesadillas. Magical Dylan helps Meg switch her dowdy duds for a sparkly gown and H&M silver heels. Dylan is the wardrobe stylist every girl wants.
When Meg swipes right on the pic of oblivious techie Marcus (handsome Jackson Thea), she secures a real live date. But Marcus is obsessed with lovely Julie (multi-talented Sarah Jiang). He only plays on Tinder to spite Julie.
“Tinderella” asks us, “How do supposedly ‘picture perfect’ lives make us feel? Tightly choreographed dances and satirical songs offer a bleak answer: Social media leaves us feeling inadequate. Insecurity runs rampant in the song “Like Me,” when Meg sings, “Please like me, so I can like me more.” She reminds us of ourselves.
The villain is Meg’s fear of being just ordinary. With Dylan’s help, she figures that the “best version” of herself is yet to come.
Behind the veneer of filters, seductive hashtags, and clever come-on’s, the guys and gals on Tinder are struggling, too. “Tinderella: The Modern Musical” astounds us with thought provoking lyrics that leave us questioning: What is true love?
“Tinderella: The Modern Musical”—book by Rose Oser, lyrics by Weston Scott, music by Christian B. Schmidt, directed by Ken Savage, at Custom Made Theatre, San Francisco, through Sunday, May 26, 2018. Info: custommade.org
Cast: Juliana Lustenader, Branden Noel Thomas, Sarah Jiang, Jackson Thea, Adielyn Mendoza, Alex Akin, Andrew Chug, Kimberley Cohan, James Seifert, and Ryan Wakamiya.
Banner photo: Branden Noel Thomas and Juliana Lustenader: “Friendship”